Fans and critics of Naseem Hamed needed to look no further than his fight with Augie Sanchez to find evidence to support their take on the featherweight champion. His admirers will no doubt point to Hamed's concussive knockout power and championship heart while his detractors will be quick to note how easy he is to hit and knock down. No matter which side of the Hamed fence you land on, you've still got to admit that Hamed-Sanchez was exciting... while it lasted.
In terms of action, this was as close as Hamed ever wants to get to repeating his classic four round battle with Kevin Kelley. In that fight, both men were down on numerous occasions. This night in Connecticut, both Hamed and Sanchez tasted canvas, although referee Michael Ortega called no official knockdowns.
Hamed was looking for a short night in the opening round. Slowly approaching Sanchez with a wide stance and wider eyes, Hamed was looking for one opening to land one big punch. He didn't get the chance. As Sanchez stood across from him with gloves high and tight, Hamed was forced to mostly watch. Several feints left openings, but with Hamed only throwing a single punch at a time, Kid Vegas was able to easily avoid the incoming. Although no clean punches landed this round, Sanchez did manage to glance a left hook off of Hamed's head a few times, and that was enough to swing a 10-10 feel-out round to Sanchez' column.
The fight quickly heated up in the second round. Early in the stanza, Hamed cracked Sanchez hard with a sneaky right corkscrew uppercut thrown from the southpaw stance. That punch rattled Sanchez to the tips of his toes, and he sought to retaliate. Sanchez followed the How To Fight A Southpaw Handbook and relied on the straight right hand. First he threw it to the body, and landed. He tried twice more upstairs, and jolted Hamed's face each time. The Prince now swung more freely, and Sanchez nailed him with a gigantic left hook coming in. That punch dipped Hamed's knees and served notice that Sanchez was not going to go away easily.
Hamed tried to return fire while moving straight back, and Sanchez fired two consecutive lead right hands. The first popped Naz in the nose and the second sent him back and down on the seat of his pants. A clear knockdown. But referee Michael Ortega ruled (incorrectly) that Hamed's foot had been stepped on and that the downing was a slip. Later, Hamed himself would admit that Sanchez should have gotten the knockdown credit. Rising to his feet with a grin and a bloody nose, Hamed quickly sought some revenge. He rushed at Sanchez and landed a few heavy punches. But his flurries left him open and another debilitating Sanchez counter left hook rocked Hamed and made his arm flop around and graze the canvas. Again, it should have been ruled a knockdown, but Ortega did not see it.
Hamed made it out of the second with a black eye, and there was another waiting for him when the third round began. Sanchez met Hamed at center ring and fired more short straight rights down the pike. Three in a row landed, each snapping Hamed's back more than the previous, and Hamed grabbed onto the top rope as he retreated on his heels. The upset of the year was unfolding in the ring. But just as Kevin Kelley had grown over anxious, so did Sanchez. Finding Hamed so easy to hit gave Sanchez the wrong kind of encouragement, and he now attacked more freely. Hamed was waiting for him.
Twice Hamed caught Sanchez stepping in with a sneaky right hook. The punch came out of nowhere, and each time stunned Sanchez. Twice Sanchez grabbed onto Hamed's waist and hugged for dear life, and twice Hamed leaned on him as experienced fighters are wont to do. Both times, Naz's leaning sent Sanchez down on all fours where he was ruled to have slipped. Both times, Sanchez would have likely fallen down on his own.
Hamed now let his own hands go, and his long left hand blasted Sanchez square in the face. Say what you want about Hamed's non-existent defense, or the ease in which opponents tag him, but the man can kick like a mule. Sanchez was stunned several additional times in the third round, one of the more exciting of the year.
Sanchez survived, but had little left. Before the fourth began, cornerman Emanuel Steward leaned in and told Hamed that the fight was over, that Sanchez was done. He was right. Hamed openly pounded Sanchez to begin the fourth round. His left hand punished Sanchez by landing from a variety of unorthodox angles, and Sanchez twice more tasted canvas after being stunned, holding on, and then tricking the ref into ruling for a slip. After one non-knockdown, Ortega deducted a point from Hamed for pushing Sanchez down.
Knowing that Sanchez was ready to go, Hamed looked more determined than ever to end the fight. His mouth agape and his bruised face crunched to a mask a hatred, Hamed seemed to throw extra effort into his bombs. The effect was pure devastation. Switching to a conventional stance, Hamed crashed a left hook to the side of Sanchez' head. He followed immediately with a right cross that couldn't have been more perfect if Hamed was a natural righty. The punch landed flush and Sanchez tipped backwards on his way to the canvas. But before the first right could fully register, another followed, and this one slammed Sanchez in the temple as he was on his way down.
The referee didn't even need to look at Sanchez. In fact, Sanchez hadn't even finished his stiff legged collapse when he grabbed Hamed around the chest and waved the fight over. Naseem Hamed KO4.
Sanchez, unaware that the fight had been stopped (and probably unaware of where he was) used the ropes to pull himself to his knees. But even kneeling he was wobbly, and he never made it any further. As his corner rushed in and lifted him up, Sanchez wearily dropped back down to the canvas, where he stayed for the next ten minutes. He would eventually be removed from the ring in a neck brace and on a stretcher, although it was announced that he was awake and merely undergoing a precautionary procedure. But the statement had been made: Hamed's power can be overwhelming.
No one in the division has Hamed's power. Not soon-to-be-WBC champion Erik Morales, not Marco Antonio Barrera, and not muscular Freddie Norwood. While any of these three might be able to use Hamed's leaky defense to their advantage, it remains to be seen if any of them can withstand Hamed's bombs if he lands clean. Improving his record to 35-0/31 KO, Hamed is now scheduled for a WBO mandatory late this year. Bouts with Morales and Barrera are on the table for early 2001. If either man will accept the terms, Hamed may finally get the test so many have waited for.
In a sizzling undercard bout, Antonio Diaz and Irish Micky Ward squared off in the war of attrition everyone expected. Diaz and Ward spent the first round jabbing at each other. Satisfied with their brief boxing demonstration, each man gladly moved the fight to close quarters. For the next nine rounds, the two stood mostly ear to ear and waged classic phonebooth warfare.
Although this advantage seemed to favor Ward, Diaz won the fight easily. Ward was winging some hard body shots and uppercuts, but Diaz consistently began and ended each exchange. Simply put, Diaz was busier, more accurate, and the cleaner puncher. The fight grew closer in the seventh, after Steve Smoger deducted a point from Diaz for a low blow, despite no official warnings. That deduction sparked a Ward rally that continued for much of the rest of the fight.
But despite Ward upping his output in the final two rounds, it was a case of too little-too late. His sneaky uppercuts to the sternum of Diaz and his haymaker comeback attempts could not stop Diaz, who looked well conditioned for the first time in several fights. The judges saw it all for Diaz, 95-94, and 96-93 twice (Boxing Chronicle scored the bout 96-94 for Diaz).
Diaz has thrust himself to the top of the list of 140 lb. contenders. With the talented Mitchell, Judah and Tszyu all claiming belts but unwilling to unify, Diaz will likely get a title shot soon. If he comes to that fight as well prepared as he was this night, he can make any of those bouts very interesting.
And so it was in Ledyard. Naseem Hamed survived some scares and put the hurt on his opponent. Whether you cheer him or despise him, you can't avoid tuning in. Walking the tightrope between victory and defeat, his ring appearances are must-see events. In a sport with few box office draws, Hamed's appeal makes him one of boxing's hottest properties. And what's not to like about that?
ROUND 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 TOTAL HAMED 9 9 10 KO
SANCHEZ 10 10 9
ROUND 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 TOTAL DIAZ 10 10 10 10 10 10 8 10 9 9 96 WARD 10 9 9 9 9 9 10 9 10 10 94